9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Gangster No. 1 [VHS]  (VHS Tape)
This film should be given A LOT more recognition than it does. It's one of the best British films I've seen in recent years. Stylishly directed, it shows one man's determination to become the top dog in the underworld. Not exactly an unfamilier scenario, but where this differs from a lot of other gangster flicks is with the cold-blooded portrayal of the central character. He doesn't even appear to be human at times. He has no name, no family (no Violet Kray-style mum to fawn all over him), no apparent personal life whatsoever, (it comes as a bit of surprise to find he's actually got a flat to live in!), he seems to exist solely to wreck brutality, murder and mayhem. This could so easily have been ridiculous, making him a pantomime villain, but the superb acting of Paul Bettany and Malcolm McDowell, as the younger and older gangster, never allows this to happen. Both are quite chilling in the role. David Thewlis has a good go at playing Freddy Mays, the butcher of Mayfair, but he always comes across as far too decent a bloke to be a gangland overlord!
There are some highly memorable scenes in this, most particularly the gruesome blood-splattered part where Bettany literally butchers a rival mobster, and then takes a shower afterwards with his weapons! And the scene where McDowell rages about still being top dog, after letting it slip that he's effectively tired of living a completely loveless life and wants done with it all, is top quality stuff. There is no hero-worshipping nonsense about gangsters in this film. Bettany's idolising of the gang-leader is shown to be as immature and pathetic as any schoolboy crush. The erotic undertones to his "crush" on Freddy Mays are done with great subtlety. And the gangsters in old age are shown to be nothing more than clapped-out old has-beens still fighting yesterday's battles. This is one of those films that you see more in each time you watch it. Highly recommended.